Living Below Ground – The Invisible Man

Jeff Wall, After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the Preface, 1999-2001.

Jeff Wall, After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the Preface, 1999-2001.


“The point now is that I found a home—or a hole in the ground, as you will. Now don’t jump to the conclusion that because I call my home a “hole” it is damp and cold like a grave; there are cold holes and warm holes. Mine is a warm hole. . . . My hole is warm and full of light. Yes, full of light. I doubt if there is a brighter spot in all New York than this hole of mine, and I do not exclude Broadway. Or the Empire State Building on a photographer’s dream night. . . . And I love light. Perhaps you’ll think it strange that an invisible man should need light, desire light, love light. But maybe it is exactly because I am invisible. Light confirms my reality, gives birth to my form.”

Condensed excerpt from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, first published 1952 (New York: Random House, 1982), pages 5-6.

In the summer of 2009, I took part in a school trip to Paris. On a visit to the Musée du Quai Branly I was fortunate to see an exhibition on the evolution of Jazz music. Jazz Century was a fantastic exhibition, full of art, artifacts, and music. One of the highlights was close to the end of the exhibition, Jeff Wall’s After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (pictured above). Presented as a large scale backlit colour transparency the  joy of seeing this work in person is the amount of detail Wall packed into the image.

“Mine is a warm hole . . .” The narrator states discussing his basement dwelling. I have never read the book (it is on my list of books to read this summer) so I can’t speak to the importance of the basement within the larger arc of the story but the quote is lovely and deals with one of the major issues I will have to tackle once I move in – warmth and light.


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